It’s easy to declare, “Lying is a sin; never lie!” The ninth commandment tells us that God abhors it. However, a reading of the Old Testament will quickly reveal that “Never lie!” isn’t so clear cut. What are we supposed to do with the stories where people not only lie, but seem to be honored for doing so?

Honorable Liars

In Exodus, we read about midwives defying Pharaoh’s order to kill Israelite boys. Later, they lied to him about it. They were said to have “feared God” and were rewarded with families of their own. In Joshua, when guards come to capture the Israelite spies, Rahab claims they had already escaped when they were actually hiding on her roof. The Bible, far from denouncing her lie, honors her: “By faith, Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Heb 11:29).

In 1 Samuel, David flees from King Saul. Before leaving the country, he makes one last stop at the tabernacle. He lies and tells the priest that he is on a secret mission for the king. He says this so that the priest could have an alibi for Saul.

Questioning the Lawgiver

A closer reading of these Old Testament stories shows that these lies took place when lives were in danger. As a result, some have replaced one blanket statement (“Never lie!”) with another: “Never lie… unless someone’s life is at stake.” But if it’s okay to lie when it saves someone from death, what about when it saves someone from torture? We find that instead of answering the original question, we’ve created new problems.

This question about lying isn’t important because it highlights a potential problem in God’s law. It’s important because it reveals a problem in our lordship. This brings us back to the story of David. People often talk about this story not because David lied, but because he broke another rule: eating consecrated bread.

Jesus mentions David’s rule-breaking in order to explain why He let His disciples pick grain on the Sabbath. Confusion over Sabbath rules was once the equivalent of asking “Is it ever okay to lie?” The Pharisees considered picking grain as evidence of Jesus’ problematic leadership, but Jesus uses it to reveal that the Pharisees were the ones with the problem. They had been spending so much time and energy on the law that they lost sight of the Lawgiver. Rules had become their master instead of God, so they needed to know them intricately. In contrast, Jesus declares “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” so know Him intimately.

We find context for these Old Testament stories in James 2:19–26. Of all the Old Testament examples of faith in action, James features Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac, his son. He also highlights Rahab’s willingness to save the spies. James picked stories about killing and lying—things that would never happen if rules were followed.

Real Life Rules

What is Jesus saying about daily obedience—not just life or death situations? What about practical things like giving (“Is it 10 percent?”), church attendance (“Can I skip today?”), and TV consumption (“Am I allowed to watch that?”)?

God uses rules to reveal His heart so we can better submit to Him. Just don’t spend so much time trying to figure out the rules that you miss hearing His voice.


Pick up the resources you need for your Old Testament Bible study at Logos.com/OT.

BSMArticle courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Each issue of Bible Study Magazine provides tools and methods for Bible study as well as insights from people like John Piper, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Kay Arthur, Randy Alcorn, John MacArthur, Barry Black, and more. More information is available at http://www.biblestudymagazine.com. Originally published in print: Copyright Bible Study Magazine (Nov–Dec): pg.32.